ON THE ROAD WITH SAINT AUGUSTINE: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts by James K. A. Smith (Brazos Press/Baker Publishing; 2019)
On the Road With Saint Augustine is written by philosopher, theologian, and author James K. A. Smith is the first book of his that I am aware of that is not written for a purely academic audience. And while this newest book is accessible to a broader audience, it is a little challenging in places. This is due mostly to the author’s frequent mention of philosophers and an assumption of some familiarity with them and their views.
But with that small caveat out of the way, let me say that this book is wonderfully written, and I found myself often contemplating some of the points that Smith throughout the book. Smith melds the idea of a “road trip” to “find oneself,” which many readers would be familiar with from novels from folks like Jack Kerouac, and even modern movies like Harold and Maude and Thelma and Louise, with the spiritual journey of Augustine.
Christian readers should mostly be familiar with the man Augustine and his importance. Still, probably many (like myself!) have found it hard to get through his books, The Confessions and The City of God. So, this book serves as a creative and impressive introduction to the life and writings of Augustine. Smith’s goal in the book is to show how Augustine was not just a “saint” and a theologian who largely shaped Christianity in the West through his epochal writings. Augustine was a man like many people in our world today — seeking out meaning and happiness in all the things the world has to offer but always coming away empty-ended. But for those of us who follow Christ, we find — along with Augustine — that He alone provides the meaning and value to life that we have been seeking all of our lives. After all, it is Augustine who wrote the famous line: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in You.”
Smith takes essential topics and life issues, like freedom, ambition, sex, friendship, mothers and fathers, and enlightenment, and shows us how to navigate through these things spiritually — just like Augustine. We moderns often turn up our noses at those who live in earlier times, thinking that they have no real application to our lives today. But through his mastery of Augustine’s life and writings, and Smith’s impactful way with words, he shows that we in 2019 are no different in the things that really matter from those who lived almost 1500 years ago.
On the Road With Saint Augustine is a book that readers may want to return to regularly, to spark deep thinking and a greater appreciation that our spiritual journeys are challenging, but at the same time, very similar. And in the end, our journeys will be found to be well worth the rocky roads that have been walked upon to reach our true goal — Jesus Himself.